Tuesday, 30 April 2013 08:20

Where is Go? Six Steps to Incorporate Lean Principles into the Requirements Process

Written by Eric Spellman and Jack Merritt

Your project timeline is about to click over from discussion to action. The initial smoke has cleared and answers to frame-out the big picture have addressed questions like:

  • What methodology fits best?
  • Should new technology be introduced?
  • Who will participate in the governance model?
  • When and what will be delivered and who’s writing the checks?

It’s time to Go. The clock is ticking and expectations are high.

Then it hits you. How do I start? Who do I talk to? What am I going to deliver and in what format? In other words, “Where is Go?”

Unless you’re one of the lucky few Business Analysts driving the process continuum from business case development and project planning into the elicitation phase, your version of Go usually begins somewhere between “go figure it out,” and “we need to start coding yesterday.” More often than not, it seems that a considerable number of projects start on a wild goose chase, tracking down project definition documents, trying to make sense of the available artifacts, or something – anything – that illustrates current state. Starting off in scramble mode is not only ineffective and inefficient, it is never accounted for in a project timeline. 

Saying this is a stressful and difficult situation to start is an absolute understatement. Especially since Business Analysts hold the key responsibility of translating a business objective into an executable solution. To start a project with such uncertainty is simply an unwarranted risk. To help mitigate that risk, here are 6 steps that will significantly reduce the non-value added time spent in scramble mode. These steps will provide a consistent starting point on virtually any project – regardless of the methodology you’re operating within or the technology being used.

Step 1: Know Your Lane

Don’t rely on titles to provide role and scope clarity. Unfortunately the Business Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, or whatever multitude of variant prefixes are added to Analyst, will not define project accountabilities or responsibilities. Seek out and schedule time with the person who will be “Accountable” for your deliverables. Understand anticipated deliverables and who will be receiving them, established timelines, and project reporting requirements.

  • Lean Principles: Identification of the Value Stream (project perspective)
  • Tool belt: RACI matrix
  • BABOK Reference: sections 2.1, 2.3, 2.5

Step 2: Stay in Your Lane

Be a collaborative team member, but stay laser-focused on your deliverables. Scramble mode equals multiple levels of ambiguity: don’t cross over into project management, technology design, or any other functions not directly related to defined deliverables – something that’s easier said than done as Business Analysts are solution- and quality-driven individuals. Dysfunctional teams (broadly characterized as too many team members who are too broadly focused on performing too many roles), probably contribute more often to failed projects than scoping issues, poor requirements or misused technology combined.

  • Lean Principles: Eliminate Waste (wasted time focused outside delivery scope)
  • Tool belt: become familiar with causes and remediation techniques of Dysfunctional Teams
  • BABOK Reference: sections 2.3, 2.4, 2.6

Step 3: Identify Your Consumers

Temporarily narrow down your immediate focus and define your Consumer as the person/role who is the primary recipient of your deliverables. Invest time with them as they will be your most important relationship on the project. Understand why they need your output, how it will be used, and what they will be producing. This will provide significant context around your purpose, and key partnerships required to ensure smooth handoffs in the supplier-to-consumer process.

  • Lean Principles: Identify Customers and Specify Value
  • Tool belt: SIPOC matrix
  • BABOK Reference: section 2.2

Step 4: Capture Consumers Critical-to-Quality (CTQ) Requirements

This is the essential step that will formulate true value-add deliverables defined by each consumer group captured in Step 3. This will be the “What”, “How” and “Why” guidelines used to build your artifacts. Capture exactly what your consumer needs and their preferred format. Be sure to be as diligent, detailed and explicit in understanding and capturing these CTQs as the business/functional requirements that will ultimately be delivered. Our key objective is to produce the exact amount of information needed in a consumable format.

  • Lean Principles: Identify Customers and Specify Value
  • Tool belt: CTQ Tree
  • BABOK Reference: Sections 3.1, 3.2, 3.3

Step 5: Identify Your Immediate Supplier

Identify what you have to work with in order to produce artifacts that are aligned with your consumers’ CTQs. Understand who, what and how your inputs are being provided. This will help define the time and effort required to create quality artifacts. To the extent possible, work with your input partners to provide them with your Critical-to-Quality requirements.

  • Lean Principles: Respond to Customer Pull
  • Tool belt: SIPOC matrix
  • BABOK Reference: Chapter 2 (inputs)

Step 6: Draft Deliverable Review

Take a meaningful, yet bite size piece of a scheduled deliverable and craft it based on the established CTQs. Review it with your consumer(s). Keep this as an iterative process until your requirements package is complete. Embrace the continuous improvement mindset and don’t be afraid to keep making modifications through the elicitation phase.

  • Lean Principles: Pursue Perfection
  • Tool belt: Driven by consumer (see available options in BABOK Chapter 9)
  • BABOK Reference: Chapter 9

Efficient and effective are two of the more appreciated words project leads and business sponsors love to hear, usually due to their positive association with time, cost and quality. If Business Analysts understand for whom and how work will be used, the way in which that work is created will be a much more fluid process.

Business Analysts share similar principles with their Business Process siblings. Both strive to create value as defined by our consumers, utilize various toolsets to align needs with approach, and leverage appropriate methodologies/frame works to ensure quality and on-time delivery. Integrating Lean principles and tools with the BABOK has proven to be an excellent combination of complementary knowledge and tools to broaden thought perspectives for Business and Systems Analysts alike.

But regardless of methodologies used or tools leveraged, complementing your approach by reaching out to those organizations and/or personal contacts who possess those related battle scars will provide a GPS-like solution to finding Go.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

spellmanEric Spellman is a Managing Director at Magic Hat Consulting. He has 20 years of experience as a key strategic leader and tactical contributor with organizations engaged in transitioning and integrating process improvement within requirements development, program management and strategic planning. Eric’s business domain experience includes Banking, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, and Software Development. Eric is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and SCRUM Master. He has served as a chapter board member for the IIBA and an active member/contributor to several Process, Requirements, and Project Management groups.

merrittJack Merritt is a Senior Director and leads Magic Hat Consulting’s Business Enablement practice. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 17 years of experience deploying Lean & Six Sigma programs and executing projects delivering over $200M of demonstrable annualized savings from operations and improved effectiveness of sales forces. Jack has taught DMAIC, DFSS, DMADV, Statistical Process Control, Innovation, and Practical Statistics at several universities. His areas of expertise include: Sales and Marketing processes, Customer Service effectiveness, and Transactional Finance. Accomplished in executing Hoshin and Strategic Planning programs, Operational Metric Development, Kaizens, Work-Outs, Lean Value Stream Mapping and Process Flows, Project Management, Financial and Process Modeling.

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